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Life Histories of Forgotten Heroes?

Transgression of Boundaries and the Reconstruction of Tibet in the post-Mao Era


HILDEGARD DIEMBERGER University of Cambridge, UK hgmd2@cam.ac.uk

ABSTRACT Oral-history projects in the Tibetan areas of China face the challenge of dealing with a highly contested history and a sensitive political context that raises numerous ethical questions. At the same time, this particular situation makes them compelling. This paper looks at some examples of local cadres, heads of monasteries and village elders who were a driving force in the reconstruction of the Tibetan social and cultural fabric in the 1980s and 1990s. These are people who had experienced Tibet before its radical reshaping through the Democratic Reforms of 1959, survived the Cultural Revolution and, after 1978, led their communities in their endeavours of reviving Tibetan traditions and promoting local welfare. This generation of political and religious leaders has now largely disappeared from the active scene. Their personal involvement, often above and beyond their official roles, has been crucial in the shaping of contemporary Tibet. However, Chinese official narratives and those of Tibetan exile - for opposite reasons - tend to neglect or misrepresent their contribution. This paper shows how the collecting of life histories and personal accounts makes it possible to reconstruct a 'history from below', otherwise consigned to oblivion. At the same time it provides some telling examples of how leaders negotiated the shifting boundary between the religious and the secular while trying to reconcile the moral authority of the past with a modernist vision of society. An engagement with oral history may thus provide some insights into the current tensions within the emerging Tibetan civil society that straddles a difficult pathway between the tenets of Chinese socialism and deeply engrained Buddhist morality. Keywords: Tibet, oral history, policy and memory

Oral-history research in the Tibetan areas of China faces the challenge of having to deal with a highly contested history and a restrictive political context. Scholars
Inner Asia 12 (2010): 113-25 2010 Global Oriental

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are confronted with numerous ethical questions when studying crucial events which are perceived to be still sensitive. At the same time, such dilemmas make this kind of research compelling. The recent publication of On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident by Melvyn Goldstein, Ben Jiao and Tanzen Lhundrup represents a step in this direction. One of the first studies to explore events from the Cultural Revolution in Tibet using fieldwork and oralhistory data together with contemporary Chinese documents, it provides a detailed account of the 'Nyemo incident'. In this incident, Tibetan villagers, inspired by a possessed nun (Trinley Chdrn), but guided by the Gyenlog revolutionary faction, attacked the local PLA garrison troops, and then marched on to the local government seats in Nyemo County in June 1969, only to be thoroughly squashed a few days later, costing many lives. This event captured the imagination both of Tibetan activists, who saw it as a fight for independent Tibet, and of Chinese officials, who described it as a splittist uprising. But simplistic nationalist readings from opposite points of view obliterated important aspects of the events, argue Goldstein et al. In their view, reality on the ground reflected the entanglement of local and general issues, with internal conflicts in the community and factional fights within the party. Despite the merits of this work, some commentators expressed concerns about what could be expressed by informants. One review is particularly pertinent: It should be no surprise that in Tibet not one person taking an active part in an armed uprising wanted to mention independence, as participating in any independent activities is punished with long prison sentences in Tibet today. Even if the uprising was a long time ago, Tibetans know very well what can be said and what is better not told. It seems incredible to me that such an insight is missing from the book, because making an interview in Cleveland or in Nyemo is just not the same thing. The real views of the people and what they say in an interview recorded by an employee of the Chinese govemment are obviously two different stories. (<http://www.amazon.com/Cultural- evolution-Tibet-NyemoR Incident/>, accessed 20 December 2009) The lingering sensitivity and controversy surrounding this four-decade-old event shows that what Portelli calls 'the public struggle for meaning and memory' is still open. This study is caught in a tension between the stated aim of reconstructing what had happened and a more subtle exploration of perceptions which have been part of the history of this event in their own right. As Portelli shows in his study of the 1944 Fosse Ardeatine Massacre in Rome: When an incorrect reconstruction of history becomes popular belief, we are not called on only to rectify the factsbut also to interrogateourselveson how and why this commonsensetook shape and on its meaning and uses. This is where the specific reliability of oral sources arises: even when they do not tell the events as they occurred, the discrepancies and the errors are themselves events, clues for the work of desire and pain over time, for the painful search for meaning. (portelli
2003: 16)

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Over the past twenty years I have been involved in anthropological fieldwork in Central and Eastern Tibet and I was often made acutely aware of the importance of different perceptions of the past. Although not involved in any oral-history research project nor with the study of major historical events, I have collected many materials that show how oral-history research can promote a better understanding of contemporary Tibetan society and highlight the link between politics and memory. China as a state based on secularist ideology betrays a remarkable uneasiness in its dealings with a deeply religious society such as the Tibetan, despite the fact that freedom of religious belief is guaranteed in China's Constitution. My research shows the importance of Tibetan Buddhist roots not only for the Tibetan population but also for Tibetan cadres, and highlights the anxiety on the part of the local authorities in dealing with anything that cuts across the boundary between what is religious and what is secular. It also shows the impact of recent policies on the mechanisms through which memory of people and deeds is preserved or forgotten. In this article I look at some examples oflocal cadres, heads of monasteries and village elders who were a driving force in the reconstruction of the Tibetan social and cultural fabric in the 1980s and 1990s. These are people who had experienced Tibetan society before its integration into the PRC (and its radical reshaping through the Democratic Reforms of 1959), survived the Cultural Revolution and, after 1978, led their communities in efforts to revive Tibetan traditions and promote local welfare. Their personal involvement, often above and beyond their official roles, has been crucial in the shaping of contemporary Tibet and provided remarkable examples of what Stephan Feuchtwang and Wang Mingming (2001) would call 'grass-roots charisma'. Celebrated in narratives of reconstruction that had almost an epic character, they recalled the great Buddhist figures that had brought to the fore the shrines, texts and festivals that they were recovering. They were a sort of local modem hero in the Buddhist revival of the post-Mao era, which is sometimes called the 'further spread ofthe Buddhist doctrine' (yang dar) in continuity with the 'first spread of the Buddhist doctrine' (snga dar) during the Tibetan imperial period (sixth-ninth centuries) and the later spread of the Buddhist doctrine (phyi dar) after the tenth century. This generation of political and religious leaders has now largely disappeared from the active scene as a result of more restrictive policies on religion and culture and the passing of time, as most of them have retired or died. Chinese official narratives and those of Tibetan exile, for opposite reasons, tend to neglect or misrepresent their contribution. We could say that they were too involved with the Chinese administration to be admired and recruited by Tibetan activists and too devoted to local religious interest to be relied upon and promoted by the Chinese authorities. They now seem to have disappeared from the public narrative space that would make them part of a collective process of connecting the past to the present and the future. With their demise, the memory of a generation that experienced and contributed to crucial historical changes in Tibetan society risks remaining untold and unrecorded. Their

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fate excludes them from what Passerini described as the inter-subjective process of remembering: What is required is indeed not a simple and spontaneousmemory,not the one that stems from a need for vengeance, for instance, but a memory of a memory, a memory that is possible because it evokes another memory. We can remember only thanks to the fact that somebodyhas rememberedbefore us, that otherpeople in the past have challenged death and terror on the basis of their memory. Remembering has to be conceived as a highly inter-subjective relationship. (passerini 1992:2) THE DEVOUT CADRE AND THE HOLY SHRINE In Tibetan landscapes, special places are often linked to the lives of important people so that narratives of place and narratives of life become tightly intertwined. Located in Kyirong County in southwestern Tibet, the monastery of Trakar Taso, built where the famous twelfth-century mystic Milarepa is said to have meditated for nine years, is one of these places. It shared the destiny of many other religious sites that faced destruction by intention or neglect during the Cultural Revolution, when erasing the past seemed indispensable to establishing the new Tibet. In the post-Mao era it saw the involvement of a number of people trying to reconstruct this shrine. These included Lhasa officials, an exmonk who had returned to religious life, a growing community of nuns, a local administrator, and so on. I remember the stories of these people being told along with those of the great spiritual masters from the past, as if they had become part of the local mythology. They had been able to achieve those feats in the 1980s and early 1990s, an era when China's religious policy in Tibet was at its most liberal. After 1994, new policies showed an increasing uneasiness towards anything that blurred the boundary between religion and politics, sacred and secular and, more generally, what is defmed as 'old society' (spyi tshags rnyingpa) and 'new society' (spyi tshags gsar pa). When religious policy became tighter, and the separation between religion and politics more stringent, their remembrance started to pose a particular challenge. By the end of the Cultural Revolution, Trakar Taso, with its monastic buildings and ancient printing house perched on a steep slope on a gorge south of Dzongkha town,2 was in ruins. It was found in this condition by a group of Tibetan scholars who were carrying out surveys into what had survived the Cultural Revolution. One of them said in November 2009: I first went to Trakar Taso in 1989 with two colleagues. They were senior researchers,much older than me; I was very young then and mainly followedtheir lead. At that time we were deeply aware that a lot had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and we felt that we had to care for what had survived. I had also a strong influence from my mother who had exposed me to Tibetantexts and relics. We saw many places and eventually found the ruins of Trakar Taso.There

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we saw ancient printing blocks exposed to the rain, ritual items and objects that we felt to be very precious scattered all over the place. My two colleagues highlighted how famous Trakar Taso was in Tibetan history. This contrasted with the desolate place in front of our eyes, now completely ernpty, abandoned. We felt great pity, we felt very sad ... especially sad, at that view. We felt that we should at least take care of the ancient printing blocks. These feelings prompted doned shrine: the scholars to ask the local authorities

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We went back to the county seat and asked the local governor for advice, mentioning that all this should be looked after. We asked whether there were some monks from the monastery left. The county governor said that we should speak to Pho L. 3 He introduced him to us - he was great! From Pho L. we leamed that there was one Trakar Taso monk that had survived, called Shedra T.,4 and we went to meet him. He lived in a small house of mud bricks and as we arrived there I saw a middle-aged man carrying a baby. I rernernber this very clearly. He said that he was sad about Trakar Taso's current condition and from time to time he would visit the ruins. We said we would like to see the monastery restored and asked whether he could look after that. He was hesitant at first and pointed out that he had had to disrobe and marry and thus he might not be in the most suitable position to lead a new monastic community. Eventually he said that if there was some support he would do so. The scholars discovered that the destiny ofTrakar Taso had already been a concern to many in the community and in this way the restoration project started, relying on very modest private funding: At first we did not get big money, we collected some private funding among ourselves and asked people for more private support. There were also some donations of wood. Among the local people Pho L. really understood the situation and he supported the operation. The county leader said that he would not support us but he would not obstruct the operation, either. Pho L. gathered support among local people in a private capacity. At that time, I was told, although there was hardly any government support, the fact that no permits were required made such spontaneous reconstruction endeavours relatively simple. That experience deeply impressed the young scholar, who decided to pursue his interest in Tibetan culture with a pragmatic approach and joined an organisation established by the Panchen Lama and Ngabo Ngawang Jigme to promote welfare projects and the restoration of Tibet's cultural heritage: In 1991 I moved from my academic institution to an organisation that was looking after Tibetan cultural heritage and promoted international fund raising to this effect. At that time Trakar Taso was adopted as a project and we managed to channel international funding towards it. This was possible only for a limited

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period oftime, in 1994there was a big policy change ... After Shedra T. and Pho L. died, I remained in touch with the nuns who managed to run the place, retrieve books and manuscripts that had been hidden and get them catalogued. The local township governor (xiangzhang) Pho L. (who had promoted and supported the endeavour inspired by the scholars' visit to Trakar Taso) was an imposing man, highly charismatic and popular in his community. I first met him in June 1993, during one of my research trips to that area. This administrator of a modernist, secularist state seemed to behave like a traditional community elder, but I was not too surprised as I had already come across party secretaries blessing community fields, and other religiously engaged governors. He immediately started to tell about his homeland, his own story and what he did to revive the sanctuary of one of Tibet's most famous mystics: This used to be the ancientkingdom of Gungthang and in ancienttimes this was a main trade route and dhanna route. We can still se the ruins of the royal palace. The kings had the name of Thride (Khri Ide)5because they were descendants of the ancient Tibetan emperors.6 That snow mountain is the protector of the kings. They built the fortressand many monasteriesand temples. Inside the fortressthere is Dzonkha Chode monastery and the Droma temple, which is very ancient and built in Nepalese style. Down in the souththere is the famous PhagpaWatitemple which used to house a very holy statue. On the way there is Trakar Taso, Milarepa's meditationplace. He mentioned the ancient Tibetan emperors and the Buddhist kings of Gungthang who saw the support of Buddhist deeds as part of their rule; they were apparently an important reference for him. He blended themes from Buddhist histories and biographies with his own story and that ofthe people with whom he shared his vision. 'I was once a monk in Dzonkha Chde, the main monastery here', he said, and then 'I spent three years injail during the Cultural Revolution. That was very hard but after Deng's policy change I was rehabilitated and eventually recruited by the administration. Now I am here and I can do things for the community and for the holy places of this area.' His was a narrative of both survival and celebration, rooted in the past and looking towards the future and the new opportunities. In fact he had not only enthusiastically supported cultural revival but had opened a successful mechanical workshop and was looking after the welfare of the community with commitment. I met Pho L. again one year later, at the end of July 1994. He was leading the summer festival in an encampment of white tents amidst the barley fields and was surrounded by men and women wearing their best traditional costumes. In the middle of the dancing crowd was a central pole with Mao's portrait attached to it. It was the meeting of two worlds, communist modernity and Tibetan tradition. In this second encounter Pho L. mentioned events surrounding the restoration of Trakar Taso. In between, however, he voiced a sense of anxiety and disbelief: according to new administrative procedures, he was going to be

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reappointed to an administrative position but only as deputy xiangzhang. The notion of' deputy' contrasted with Pho L.'s apparent seniority? and popularity. At that time I could not make much sense of his statement. I met him once more in 1997. By then he had retired and was rather depressed. By my next visit to the area, a few years later, I heard that he had died. On a visit in 2009 to the same area, I looked for memories of what used to be this great community leader. I realised that newly appointed cadres were completely unaware of what he had been, and after having encountered some awkwardness among local people, I was given an account of what had happened to him. This account casts his experience in the broader framework of 1994 administrative reforms promoting radical policy changes and centralisation. I was told by a local official that: Pho L. was one of those people who had originally been selected as community representatives. At that time this was to a large extent based on volunteering and the compensation was very limited and was raised by the community itself In 1992 Pho L. was officially recognised as a cadre (las byed pa) and he received a proper government salary in his capacity of township govemor (xiangzhang). People trusted him very much on all kinds of issues. He was even consulted to assess whether a pair of earrings to be presented to a relative were made of gold or to give advice on business. Pho L. engaged in private fundraising for Trakar Taso. Some people from the lower valleys offered wood, others work, others money. People were very pleased with Pho L.'s engagement in the restoration of Trakar Taso. The change in Pho L.'s position was explained and commented as follows:

Later the government sent specific people to become xiangzhang, this is why he was moved to the position of deputy. The new cadre was appointed to the position of senior xiangzhang. This happened around 1994. This senior xiangzhang however did not have much funding to support something like the restoration of Trakar Taso. He was different from Pho L. who was well connected in the community and also behaved like a trader. He was not linked up with the community in the same way. He was also bound by new policies that demanded more control of religious institutions and members of the monastic community. Commenting on the current situation, there was a sense of appreciation of the most recent developments despite tighter centralised control: for some

Later the government promoted the appointment of dedicated personnel to look after sites like Trakar Taso and funding was made available for the preservation of cultural heritage but all has been more tightly controlled. What then happens on the ground depends very much on the motivation and ability of the officials and how they can engage with the system; some are more able than others. Here right now we are doing fairly well ... Pho L.'s deeds have survived him and have now become an important part of local cultural heritage - Trakar Taso was even recently celebrated in a tourist

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advertisement. However, memory of his personal deeds is fading. The role he played to make possible the revival ofTrakar Taso occurred at a time when cadres could be relatively open about their deep feelings for their traditions and even their religious motivations. They were locals and, according to a rather decentralised administrative setting promoted in the 1980s and early 1990s, they were deeply rooted in the local community. This setting changed with administrative and policy changes. The memory ofPho L. reflects an arrangement between religion and politics that had eventually become awkward and his memory is now a private matter, consigned to those people who had a direct experience of him. Shedra T., the monk who, with Pho L., had started the reconstruction project, is now remembered through a brass reliquary in the shape of a stupa. This is located just above the main reconstructed buildings and the ruins of the monastery, not far from those of Trakar Taso's ancient spiritual masters, but at some distance from the main pathway. For some of the visitors and pilgrims who have had a long-standing relation to the monastery, he has become part of a 'place of memory' with its narratives of spiritual deeds. For most, however, the golden reliquary is barely worthy of notice. Pho L. and Shedra T. represent in different ways the generation that lived across the divide between 'old society' and 'new society'. Since the cadre was not supposed to have had religious feelings and the monk had had a civil life before becoming the leader of the monastic community, their memory also stands for the entanglement between the sacred and the secular and defies engrained political and religious ideals. They seem to stand for awkward continuities in a setting that has been predicated upon the celebration of discontinuities. In a comer of southern Central Tibet I came across another example of peculiar arrangements between the political and the religious that shows that activities ofPho L. and Shedra T were not exceptional but reflected a widespread pattern in Tibet.

THE WORLDLY NUN AND THE PARTY SECRETARY In November 2009 I was looking for Ani T., the senior nun of a nunnery of the Bodongpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Nearing the relevant village not very far from the city of Gyantse in southern Tibet, I asked a woman about her whereabouts. 'Ah yes, the worldly nun', said she with a somewhat enigmatic expression. 'She died last year'. I was both saddened by the news and slightly puzzled by the expression she had used to define her. I had met this remarkable nun several times before, during my research into the tradition to which she belonged. The first time it was almost by chance in 1997 during a festival at Samding, the main monastery of her tradition. Eight years later I visited her in her nunnery perched on a red spur above the village. On that occasion she told me the story of her nunnery and linked her own story to that of sacred women of the past:

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My nunnery was originally established in a land tenure of a local ruler from Bonpo Tengchen. He had a daughter, a princess who wished to become a nun ... I became a nun when I was seventeen. I was bom in a family of farmers and as one nun had left the nunnery, I became a nun in her stead. At that time, we used to participate in family life and go to the nunnery for ceremonies. When I was twenty-eight-twenty-nine [around 1960], the nunnery was closed down and was eventually destroyed. At that time I did not have two avenues to choose from. I had only one. So I married. I then had seven children. When I was about fifty [around 1982], a small group of friends came together and decided to rebuild the nunnery. We started to collect funds as begging nuns, wandering all over the region. Part of that original group was a nun who had stayed at Chagsam Chubori, the residence of Thangtong Gyalpo. She died some seven years ago. At first we asked the local authorities for permission to rebuild a small place, the size of two pillars, for the practice of ritual fasting (nyungne). It was very difficult. We applied to one official, who then referred us to another official, and so on. We were allowed to practise, for the local authorities were good to us, but it was difficult to get a formal permit to establish the nunnery. Eventually we managed to receive it. It was 1993. I then became the formal head of the nunnery and some nuns joined in. For the construction we received some donations from Samding, including some wood. The local people provided labour and we kept collecting funds as begging nuns. Recently because of my health I moved away, but I still go back when there are ceremonies. What she did not tell me at that time was that her husband had been the party secretary of the township (xiang). Her narrative was fully focused on her individual life as a nun and was apparently informed by Tibetan traditional ideals the begging nun is a popular trope in the biography of religious women. A party secretary as a husband was, it seemed, extraneous to the story. When I met her two years later, I visited her in her house. She was there with her husband and her elder daughter. It was there that her family context emerged. Although he said that he did not actively help her in her efforts to get permits, his support was nonetheless significant, especially in the earlier phase of her effort. In 2009 I returned to the nunnery in the hope of getting a more detailed account. She had died, but her husband told their story as follows: We met in 1960. I was a local party cadre and she was an ex-nun. At that time nuns could not practise and it was decided that we should marry. Our first child was bom in 1962. I had become a party cadre because I was once a servant. I had the right kind of background for that. However, in fact, I was bom as the son of the steward of a noble family. When my father died I was only six and I was adopted by a family of herders under the same noble family. I thus became their personal servant and later looked after transportation with yaks. Because of my class background, as a former servant, in the early '60s I was summoned to help mediate conflicts among the people and explain democratic refonns. In 1966 I became Party Secretary. I was originally illiterate but I started to look at newspapers and I

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learnt how to read and write from them. My wife already knew how to read and write from having been a nun. At that time [i.e. the beginning of the Cultural Revolution] we were requested to take a stand and join either the Gyenlog or the Nyamdrel. I said that we would rather not join either of them. However, since we were told that we had to choose we decided to opt for Gyenlog. Since the whole village followed the same choice there was no major infighting as had happened elsewhere. His account would support the hypothesis that the Cultural Revolution was particularly destructive where party factional fights intersected with tensions inside the local community for economic and religious reasons, and that he played his role strategically. After the major policy change of 1978, his wife expressed the wish to restore her former nunnery. Asked whether he helped her in getting permits, he denied that this was the case and added that she had all her dealing with the Buddhist Association in Gyantse. However, he supported her personally. 'I did not make any obstacles and looked after the family so that she could pursue her efforts, raise funds as a begging nun and go to the relevant offices to get permits.' Seated next to the images of Buddhist deities, great lamas and Communist leaders in the house that he had constructed for his family, this local party secretary was recalling the story of the woman with whom he had shared his life and whom he was still deeply missing. He showed not only love but great respect for her spiritual aims which she pursued with great commitment and with much skill. What she had achieved was remarkable indeed. 1 came across other nuns who had tried to re-establish their nunneries but had never been able to get formal permission. It was precisely the ability of this woman to navigate both the worldly and the religious that made her success possible. Yet among the nuns she is considered 'the worldly nun', and her position is deeply ambiguous. Like Shedra T., she had had a civil life and this had put her in an awkward position in relation to religious ideals and prototypes. MEMORY AND POLICY Religious revival in a socialist state would seem at first sight a paradox. But it has been happening all over China, and Tibet in particular, over the last three decades. This phenomenon has sometimes been interpreted as an innovation and linked to an assumed fading away of the socialist nature of the Chinese state. However, this view underplays the fact that the CCP had in the 1950s a pragmatic attitude towards religion expressed by Mao himself. Goldstein and Kapstein (1998: 2), writing about the religious policy in the 1950s, observed that' despite the CCP adherence to a Marxist, atheist ideology, it initially adopted a flexible policy regarding religion in the new state'. A similar flexible and pragmatic arrangement was re-instated with the policy shift launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 after the Cultural Revolution, during which anything religious had been

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attacked as a symbol of the old society. However, the implementation of the 'freedom of religious belief' which was enshrined in the Chinese constitution has over time reflected different ways of understanding how religion had to be circumscribed with respect to politics. Its implementation in a society in which religion and politics had traditionally not been separated was thus confronted with the challenge of defining a boundary between the acceptable and the nonacceptable, and as this shifted with policy changes it often allowed for contradictions and paradoxes as well as huge differences in implementation between one place and another. Only by looking at individual cases and at the narratives of people involved in these processes is it possible to gain an insight into this complexity and variation. The nun T. managed to obtain the permit for her nunnery in 1993. This remains up to now the only nunnery of her tradition to have achieved this. One year later everything would have been much more difficult, perhaps impossible. I was told of another nunnery of the same tradition that had been informally established in the same period and was dissolved because it had failed to obtain official permits. I also heard of other nuns who had tried to restore their nunnery but were discouraged by the difficulties and continued their practice privately. Perhaps T.'s family situation had an impact on her success. In 1994 new policies linked to a radical change of direction announced with the Third Work Forum on Tibet were introduced. Religious containment became a priority and local arrangements such as the ones described above became impossible. For example, in the main document, called The Golden Bridge Leading to a New Era, it is stated: There are too many places where monasteries have been opened without pennission from the authorities, and having too much religious activity ... the waste of materials, manpower and money has been tremendous ... sometimes leading to interference in administration, law, education, marriages, birth control, productivity and daily life. (The Golden Bridge Leading to a New Era, p. 37, quoted in Barnett 1996: 25) This shift in religious policy reflected a more general shift in the attitude of the Chinese govermnent towards Tibet. The idea that Tibet had special characteristics that needed to be taken into account had been earlier voiced in documents and newspapers. For example, in an article published in Tibet Daily it was stated: 'The special characteristics of the Tibetan region must be recognised and there must be special measures and flexible methods' (Zhang Shurin and Guo Wutian in Tibet Daily, 7 January 1991, cited in Barnett 1996: 24). This attitude was now strongly criticised: 'Is Tibet willing to accept the label of "being special" and stand at the rear of reform and opening up? ... ' (People 50 Daily, 16 May 1994, cited in Barnett 1996: 24). The tendency towards standardisation and centralisation was reflected in new appointment policies such as the one experienced by Pho L. The 1994 policy shift, analysed in detail by Robert Barnett (1996), had an impact not only on

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Tibet's administration and development but also on memory. Since then reference to any arrangement that cuts across the divide between religion and politics and is rooted in the local community and its traditions has become awkward. Narratives have thus become organised according to separate spheres, with religion clearly separate from and subordinate to politics. Yet it was the people who navigated both that were able to reconstruct Tibet after the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, and this heritage remains the one enjoyed by local inhabitants and visitors; and is sometimes promoted by the Party as the showcase of Tibetan culture.

CONCLUSION In this paper I have shown how the collection of life histories and personal accounts makes it possible to reconstruct a 'history from below', otherwise consigned to oblivion. The stories ofPho L. and Shedra T., of Ani T. and her husband are not exceptional and have many similarities with many others across Tibet. They are interesting because they reflect the history and the memory of a generation that lived across important historical divides: the one between 'old society' and 'new society' and the one between Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaoping's new policies. They illustrate the entanglement of the religious and the political in a process that made the reconstruction of Tibetan social and cultural fabric in the post-Mao era possible. The collection oftheir individual histories brought to the fore behaviour and local political handling of situations that often contrasted with popular expectations and official master-narratives, but which have been crucial in the shaping of modem Tibetan society. Although a discrepancy between rule and practice is to be expected in most societies, the fact that Tibet underwent radical transformations in a short period of time created an extreme complexity that can best be understood through the analysis oflife narratives, especially those of the generation that lived across crucial historical divides. Looking at specific life histories it is also possible to see how biographical tropes have had an impact on subjectivity formation and personal narratives, reflecting a 'morality of exemplars' (Humphrey 1996: 25--48) widespread in Buddhist societies across Inner Asia. The re-enactment of historical exemplars has often bridged the divide across 'old society' and 'new society', inspiring action in a completely new setting. This process has had a significant impact on the modes in which leaders engaged with local traditions, navigating the shifting boundary between the religious and the secular and reconciling the 'moral authority of the past' (Humphrey 1992: 375-89) with a modernist vision of society. Looking at the impact of policy and policy shifts on memory I wonder whether silencing and forgetting did not come at a price of increased political tensions, revealing an unspoken but still open struggle for meaning and memory. It has been observed that 'in totalitarian regimes power is maintained in part through the control of memory' (Perks & Thomson 1998: 449) and some of the

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effects of restrictive policies enacted in Tibet are reminiscent of this. However, the fact that research projects such as the one carried out by Goldstein, Jiao and Lhundrup have become possible is a sign that other tendencies are also present and point towards a more open engagement with the past. Oral-history research may eventually provide important insights into the emerging Tibetan civil society that straddles a difficult pathway between the tenets of Chinese socialism and a deeply engrained Buddhist morality.

NOTES
1 This was one of two opposing factions, called the Gyenlog and the Nyamdrel, that dominated the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: see Shakya 1999. 2 The seat ofKyirong County in Shigatse Prefecture, TibetAutonomous Region. 3 In Tibetan rural areas traditional kinship tenns tenns like pho or mes, meaning 'grandfather, ancestor' , are often used as titles in front of the name oflocal officials. 4 The term shedra is a title that indicates that he had been part of a religious college. 5 Khri means 'throne' and was often part of the ancient Tibetan emperors' name; iDe was the name of the imperial lineage. 6 The history of the Gungthang kings is known not only through the oral tradition but is also recorded in historical sources such as 'The Royal Genealogy of Gungthang' (Gung thang rgyal rabs), published as part of a modem book in 1995. 7 His role as community elder was not only apparent from his performance, it was also made evident by the title pho, a tenn meaning 'grandfather, ancestor'.

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